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Brands That Really Connect

Once upon a time, branding was primarily the domain of advertising and marketing. For some companies, it still is. Brands that push their products mostly via ad campaigns, websites, and packaging are missing an important opportunity: the point of connection. We all know how quickly consumers will push a product right off a cliff when it fails to connect.

Failure To Connect

What causes failure to connect? Maybe the product experience is at odds with the message being touted by advertising, marketing, and packaging. Possibly the product works fine, but there’s no compelling reason for you to choose it over another product. Even worse, a competing product might work just as well and is more delightful to use.

In a swarming marketplace, working well and looking good are no longer enough — and neither is relegating the job of branding, i.e. connecting, to advertising and marketing. Connection needs to be more than surface-deep, and product developers have the tools and platform to make it happen.

Connecting Across Senses

People familiar with Martin Linstrom’s book Brand Sense know that 83 percent of everyday communication is visual. They also know that when you touch a product, you’re more likely to buy it. (This is why Apple stores are a sea of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks that are open for groping.)

Immersive Brand Language diagram

We can relate this easily to meeting someone for the first time. First impressions count for a lot. Your appearance makes a strong impression, but a handshake can affirm or alter that impression. The sensory awareness created by the feel of your grip forges a deeper, emotional connection. Adding multisensory impact to products can have that same effect.

Think of your favorite products and why you love them. Ever had your foot measured by a Brannock Device (circa 1928)? The visceral experience it delivers is helped along by the feel of cool metal on your skin and the satisfying slide and click of the metal bar and pointer. That’s a nostalgic, analog example — just like playing with a Zippo lighter. A more contemporary one is Audi, who backs up its “truth in engineering” ethos with design details such as the precision tactile and audible feedback you feel during gear changes — the ‘click’ and feel that auto fans rave about.

Technology ups the game considerably. Elsafe makes a line of high-tech in-room hotel safes whose highest-end model employs RFID technology that allows for a graceful, gestural interaction. Its keypad-free interface is more hidden and “magical” than its lower-end siblings’. When you approach with your key card, the safe lights up and instantly unlocks. No need to remember a security code. Definitely more delightful.

Technology and Immersive Design

As technologies such as gestural interface allow for elevated interactions, product designers will be able to access more sophisticated and interconnected senses, such as vestibular (sense of balance) and proprioception/ kinesthetic senses (sense of movement) to enrich the user experience further.

As users become more sophisticated, they’ll come to expect more technology in all products — not just in the higher-end or more expensive ones. Products will continue to be engineered to deliver their brands’ values through even more subtle cues and experiential elements to create subconscious and visceral connections. We’re now at an early enough stage to be able to anticipate users’ abilities and demands. Let’s meet them head on instead of missing the opportunity and racing to catch up later.

We predict a day when corporate leadership will begin to make a point of asking design professionals, “What are you doing from a multi-sensory product design standpoint?” We’re excited about the possibilities.

(Adapted from “Building Stronger Brands with Sensory-Driven Product Design” by Mathieu Turpault, Rob Tannen, and Bob Welsh, published in the June 2013 (Vol. 2 No. 1) issue of the Journal of Brand Strategy,)